CNN) — Jen Psaki delivered her 224th and final briefing as White House press secretary on Friday afternoon.
Thanking press office colleagues and media officials, Psaki told reporters, “You challenged me, you pushed me, you debated with me, and sometimes we disagreed. This is democracy in action. That’s how it works.”
“Thank you for what you do,” she added. “Thank you for making me better. And above all, thank you for the work you do every day to make this country stronger.”
Psaki’s successor, Karine Jean-Pierre, confirmed on Friday that she would continue to hold regular briefings.
Embedded in her remarks on Friday is a clear distinction between presidents and parties. In about 16 months of working on behalf of President Joe Biden, Psaki has held more briefings than all of President Donald Trump’s press secretaries combined. According to Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, the Trump-era total was 205. Kumar counted 58 briefings from Sean Spicer, 107 from Sarah Sanders, zero from Stephanie Grisham, and 40 from Kayleigh McEnany over a four-year period .
“Psaki has restored honor, dignity and class to the White House briefing room after four years as press secretary for Donald Trump, who seemed more interested in picking fights and criticizing the media than this administration’s policies and agenda to communicate effectively,” said Tom Jones of Poynter wrote in a column about her departure.
Of course, Trump’s spokespersons did what he wanted. And Psaki did what Biden wanted – restoring a sense of normalcy before Trump. “She would come in to do daily briefings — and chatter when they were out,” Kumar said. “If you count working days excluding weekends and holidays, they held briefings 91% of the days.”
How Psaki excelled
Conservatives (some of whom watched Psaki’s briefings live on Fox) criticized Psaki for dodging questions. Liberals hailed her for neutralizing charged questions (including some asked by Fox) and defending Biden’s agenda. White House reporters appreciated her accessibility, though that didn’t make up for Biden’s relative lack of press conferences and interviews.
Erik Wemple, media critic for the Washington Post counted the number of appearances that Psaki has served as a press secretary on various networks, saying, “What’s striking here is the balanced treatment between networks, particularly Fox News.” Speaking on Fox last Sunday, Psaki said her goal was “to speak to the public and by all means to advocate for and appreciate a free press”.
Kumar, who is a regular in the briefing room, told me Psaki excelled as a briefing expert “because she came prepared for the job.”
“Perhaps her most important experiences were: 1) serving as State Department spokeswoman and 2) learning the rhythms of a White House during the Obama years,” Kumar said. “She has learned over those years to listen to reporters as an early warning system for political and political issues that the White House team may not have noticed.”
“As she prepared for the briefing, she also learned to think like a reporter,” added Kumar. “At the State Department, she learned the resonance of the language and the meaning of each word when speaking for the President.”
How will the role change?
Now Psaki goes to TV land, specifically to MSNBC — though, as I reported in Reliable Sources last Sunday, She hasn’t signed a contract yet and won’t be taking on a new role until the fall. Insider’s Claire Atkinson described the role-on-hold as “a global role appearing on NBC News’ MSNBC and the company’s streaming service Peacock.”
Her replacement, Jean-Pierre, fits perfectly behind the White House podium, having filled in for Psaki on multiple occasions. But KJP (as it’s called among White House reporters and whatnot Twitter) takes on the role of Press Secretary at a very interesting time. Biden is shifting his language towards the GOP and the “Ultra-MAGA” movement. He becomes much more openly political the more the midterms come into focus. Jean-Pierre, already the subject of conservative criticism for previous tweets, will take center stage.
Psaki said Friday that Jean-Pierre “will bring her own magic, her own brilliance, her style to this meeting room.”
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